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Justices Weigh Child Porn Restitution

U.S. Supreme Court justices appeared to struggle Wednesday as they considered how much defendants convicted of possessing images of child pornography should have to pay in restitution to victims.

Advocates for crime victims say the distribution of child pornography has exploded in since the Internet made it much easier to exchange digital images.

The change in distribution model, which means the same image may have been viewed thousands of times, has created a problem for judges trying to assess how much restitution each defendant should pay.

Questions posed by the justices seemed to suggest they agreed that all defendants convicted of possessing a copy of the same image should owe something to the victim, but they appeared unsure how to determine how much each should pay.

The court's ruling wouldn't affect the total amount of money that victims can claim in restitution from multiple defendants, but it could mean some defendants end up paying less than others.

The case concerns efforts by a victim, named only as Amy, to seek restitution from Doyle Paroline of Brownsboro, Texas, who was convicted of possessing child pornography that included two images of Amy. Amy's case is one of several in which victims are seeking restitution from multiple defendants who have obtained images online.

Amy is seeking $3.4 million in total from different defendants. The number is based in part on the lifetime cost of psychological counseling and lost earnings.

Court papers said more than 150 courts have awarded Amy restitution, but Paroline's is the only one before the Supreme Court.

Her lawyer, Paul Cassell, argued that Paroline is liable for the full amount of her injury, while Paroline says he should be liable only for his individual role.

Justices also appeared troubled by Cassell's argument that Amy should be able to seek the $3.4 million from each defendant until she recovers it all and that it didn't matter if one paid more than another.

"You are not claiming — or are you? — that she's been victimized to the tune of $3.4 million as a result of this particular defendant's offense?" Justice Elena Kagan asked Cassell.

— Lawrence Hurley, Reuters